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Johns Creek Water Rescue Unit conducts first rescue of 2016

March 18, 2016

Water Rescue UnitA man and a woman overturned their canoe and were trapped on shoals near Jones Bridge Park on March 15. The Johns Creek Fire Department’s (JCFD) Swift Water Rescue Unit responded with its new high-powered rescue boat. The boat, which has a 200hp jet drive motor, powered its way upstream from the Jones Bridge Road ramp and rescued the couple. 

“A lot of people tend to underestimate the Chattahoochee River,” said Fire Chief Jeff Hogan. “It doesn’t have a lot of churning rapids, but when the Army Corps of Engineers releases water from Buford Dam, the river picks up a lot of speed and can rise rapidly. Before heading out to the river, we recommend that you check with the Corps about when the water release will occur and when the rise is expected to hit the area of the river you will be visiting.”

During a release, the Chattahoochee can rise as much as 11 feet in minutes. The water can be as cold as 47 degrees, which is low enough to induce hypothermia and hamper efforts to swim to shore.

The Army Corps of Engineers releases water from Buford Dam during weekday afternoons unless there are unusual downstream water demands or especially heavy rains. In those situations, unscheduled water releases can occur in the morning and on weekends.

The Corps provides notice, but the announcements vary from a few minutes to a few hours before each release. Release information is available by calling 770-945-1466 or listening to radio 1610AM. River users may also view the daily schedule for release times (see the Buford column).

JCFD acquired a custom-made rescue boat last year.  The boat provides sufficient power and versatility to reach and save people more quickly. The boat has only a 4-inch draft, which allows it to move over most shoals, the gunnels (sides) of the boat are lower, which makes it easier to enter the boat from the water, and it has a hand-cranked hoist to lift a lightweight stretcher.

Hogan said the best safety strategy is to take some simple precautions before entering the water.

River safety tips:

  • Call ahead to see when releases are scheduled. And call just before entering the river. Be aware of the release time and head for the shore when the release is scheduled. Even though it may take a while for the water to get to you, don't wait.
  • Always wear a flotation device.
  • Keep an eye on the water level - note the water level on a solid fixture, such as a bridge support. If the water level has risen, it's time to get out!
  • Just because you're in a boat, don't assume you're safe. People have drowned after their boat struck rocks broadside and overturned.
  • Make sure someone knows where you are. If you get into trouble, someone can find you and alert authorities.
  • Pay attention to where you are - there are mile-markers along the river. If you have to make an emergency call, you can better inform authorities where to find you.
For more information, watch the JC Swift Water Rescue Team's Water Safety Video, review the US Army Corps of Engineers safety tips, or download the attached Chattahoochee Water Safety flyer.